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Incentive-based funding possible for Ga. colleges
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Georgia’s public colleges and universities, moving forward, could very well be funded under an incentive program, receiving — or losing — money depending on student achievement.

On Monday, the Higher Education Funding Commission, a group appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, outlined a new funding formula for the state’s schools.

The plan, which has not been finalized, would set a reward system for student success, weighted heavily on graduation rates.

Under the current formula, schools receive money based mainly on their student populations and numbers of credit hours those students take.

The University System of Georgia said the new formula supports Deal’s “Complete College Georgia,” an initiative seeking to increase higher education graduation rates.

“The current funding formula was put in place in 1981-82; much has changed over the past 30 years,” reads a university system statement. “The Governor has a great group at work on the funding formula. ... The funding formula commission’s work certainly supports college completion work and the chancellor and his staff are fully engaged with the commission’s efforts. We are grateful for the work being done and we look forward to seeing the recommendations.”

The governor’s office wants to see at least 250,000 additional college graduates by 2020, claiming that 60 percent of Georgia’s jobs by then would require some form of higher education.

“With the state budget being what it is, times are a little tough right now and we want to be sure we get the most bang for our buck,” said Philip Wilheit, Board of Regents and funding commission member. “We’ve got to be graduating more people through our system than what we’ve been doing and we feel like this is a good way to measure that success.”

Funding, which will work from an initial base for each institution, will depend mainly on how many students earn degrees and how well they progress leading up to that.

For instance, the framework reads, sophomores will earn more formula dollars than freshmen, while juniors will earn more than sophomores, and so on.

Earnings will be sector-based, meaning there will be different scales for technical colleges, state and two-year colleges, regional and state universities and research universities.

“You have to measure differently for a Georgia Tech or a University of Georgia or a North Georgia against an access-mission school like Gwinnett or some of those because they really take a little bit different student,” said Wilheit.

Colleges could also receive extra money for helping “target populations,” including low-income students and adult learners, succeed.

North Georgia College & State University officials deferred questions to the university system, but did say the formula “could create some opportunities for North Georgia” because of its “strong success rates in retention and graduation.”

Gainesville State College officials could not be reached Wednesday.

The commission is still working through some of the details of the program, but Wilheit said the plan is definitely incentive-based.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s like an incentive program,” he said. “We all need to be incentivized a little bit and this will incentivize colleges to work hard on getting our children educated.”

But some educators are concerned with how that could affect academic standards.

“On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to a merit-based funding criterion,” said Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State. “I think that it is important that everyone be evaluated on results, productivity and achievement. But, on the other hand, I sure hope this funding would not be overly contingent on graduation rates because I would sure hate to see our colleges and universities become ‘graduation mills.’ I would sure hate to see pressure put on schools, and particularly professors, to, if necessary, lower standards, lower academic rigor, to up the graduation rate. ... I think that would be a real academic tragedy.”

Robb Sinn, a math professor at North Georgia College & State University, said the last incentive program the state opted into turned out to be a breeding ground for grade inflation.

“Look at the HOPE Scholarship,” said Sinn. “The same exact thing happened with the HOPE Scholarship over the past decade ... there has been, and continues to be, an enormous amount of parental pressure on high schools to give A’s and B’s.”

Sinn said he expects colleges and universities to start inflating grades in an effort to earn more state funding. It’s “almost inevitable,” he said, adding he doesn’t blame the system chancellor or the administration.

“I don’t think the administrators have much choice,” he said. “The economy in the past five years has sucked. Nobody’s gotten raises in the university system and faculty are doing more because we haven’t been able to hire faculty we should have been able to hire and enrollments are going up and all those things have happened. Basically, our administrators are going to tell us: ‘Look, if you want more faculty or more raises we need to have fewer F’s.’ It may not be put in those stark terms.

“(But) I don’t think this is a nefarious attempt. I think it’s a good-faith effort on the part of the chancellor’s office, our administration and other administrations across the state, but I feel like if we look at it soberly and evaluate what’s happened with similar cases that we will find that good-faith, well-intentioned faculty and administrators will have no option other to inflate grades and that’s sad.”

Georgia, if it adopts this formula, would join a number of states, including Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee with incentive-based plans.

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